During the Windows 10 event in Redmond, Washington, Phil Spencer (head of Xbox) took over the stage to announce the debut of the Xbox app on Windows 10 exclusively. With the Xbox app built right into Windows 10, Microsoft plans to bridge the communication gap between the PC and Console gamers. The new Xbox App combines elements from Smartglass and the existing Xbox App on Windows 8/8.1 PC’s with few new tricks up its sleeve to make gaming on Windows 10 a more social and personalized experience. The goal here is to take the social aspects of Xbox Live and make them available to PC gamers and allow both parties to connect and play together.
Xbox App : No matter which platform you choose to play on be it PC, console or both, the new Xbox App makes the transition between the two platforms hassle free by bringing the major aspects of your gaming needs together: Games, Friends, Messages, Activity Feed, Achievements and much more to come in the future.
Multiplayer Across Devices : Thanks to the seamless and direct integration of Xbox Live into Windows 10, players on different platforms (PC and Xbox One) will be able to compete against each other for the first time. Whether it is an indie or a triple-A title, you will get full access to the Xbox Live API. While this feature sounds good on paper, its practical implementation could be limited since some genres have a better control scheme on consoles while others are a better fit for the keyboard and mouse. This limitation could be one of the biggest barriers for developers to jump on board and start using the Xbox Live API and develop cross platform experiences. Another question that remains is whether the console and PC owners get the option to choose with whom would they like to get paired, since everyone might not like to play with people on other platforms. Similar to Xbox Live on the Xbox where you need to pay to access online multiplayer, will this be a limitation for PC owners as well. The idea of cross device multiplayer is definitely a promising one, however Microsoft first needs to answer a long list of questions and clearly convey its idea behind the cross device multiplayer.
Game Streaming – Now some good news for Xbox One owners. Future Windows 10 and Xbox Owners will have the opportunity to stream their Xbox One games on any Windows 10 PC connected to their home network. Microsoft has yet to specify the exact requirements for this feature. The plan is to give most of the Windows 10 PCs the ability to stream games from the Xbox One. Microsoft also announced that many Xbox One accessories will work interchangeably on the console and PC, more information will be coming soon. Phil Spencer also mentioned that game streaming does not means you will be given the option to play your games with the desired input mechanic, so in short you won’t be able to play Halo 5: Guardians using a keyboard and mouse.
DirectX 12 – With the launch of Windows 10 and DirectX 12 (exclusive to Windows 10), developers will be able to code to the metal and get every last drop of performance out of your CPU and GPU. A lot has been said about DirectX 12 already and how it plans to give developers greater optimization on PC. DirectX 12 will be highly beneficial for CPU bound games since Microsoft claims a 40-50% boost in the CPU computing due to cutting it out of some operations on the GPU, quite like AMD’s Mantle. Microsoft announced that two of the most popular game engines which power thousands of game titles already have support for DirectX 12, which are the Unreal Engine by Epic and the Unity game engine. The best part is that most modern day GPUs that support DirectX 11 should be able to run DirectX 12.
Game DVR – We already have countless game recording tools available in market but barely any of them provides consistency or are easy to use. With the Xbox App, Microsoft will be bringing one of the most popular feature of Xbox One, the Game DVR. The feature will be accessible by just pressing the button combination Windows+G, on whichever service you are using Steam, Origin etc. and you will have the ability to use this feature. It is yet to be confirmed whether the 5 minute recording limitation of the Xbox One will carry over or not. One of the best features of the Xbox One Game DVR is its ability to record the last 30 seconds of gameplay anytime you want and this feature will be available for Windows 10 users also.
Microsoft’s focus on PC games – To demonstrate the power of cross device multiplayer, Microsoft announced the arrival of Fable Legends on PC same time as the Xbox One. When Fable Legends launches on PC and Xbox One this fall, both the parties will be able to play together in the same world for the first time. Microsoft also mentioned that more Microsoft Studios’ games will be coming to PC in the future. This does not means that Xbox owners won’t be treated with Xbox only exclusives, but we could see more and more games by Microsoft to make their debut on PC as well as has been the trend with third party exclusives on the Xbox One like Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome.
By bringing the Xbox Experience on Windows 10, Microsoft is opening new horizons for developers and gamers. While we still have to get our hands on the new Xbox app, it definitely feels like a better attempt than the trainwreck that was Games for Windows Live. Few questions are still to be answered aabout whether Microsoft eventually plans to make the Xbox App also act as a store where developers will be able to do business or is it just bringing the social aspects of Xbox Live to Windows 10.
While Microsoft will be bringing the Xbox features to PC, it will also be providing an update to the Xbox One OS to make it more connected and integrated with Windows to allow developers to easily bring their apps on big screen through Xbox. More will be announced during Game Developer Conference in March.
If you are a Windows Insider you can access the Xbox App if you have the latest build up and running on your PC, but it does not have the game streaming feature available yet. Here is a video by Major Nelson giving you a quick look at the app.
PC Gamers will view any moves to unify console and PC gaming with suspicion, given the horrors of Microsoft’s previous attempt with Games for Windows Live. While the Xbox App on Windows 8/8.1 is barebones and has memory leaks, the new version does look rather interesting. The cross device multiplayer dream is likely to be limited to some simple games that already have cross device multiplayer, given the diversity of control schemes. There is always that story of the secret study by Microsoft, where console gamers lost to PC gamers every time in a fps game, that comes to mind when such initiatives are announced. As far as streaming to a PC goes, we find it quite laughable given the relative power of the platforms that it isn’t happening the other way around. Also, it does seem quite amusing that Microsoft is targeting a higher resolution and framerate on the stream than what the Xbox One is currently outputting to TV screens. The idea of bringing in paid multiplayer may not welcomed by PC gamers and might be seen as an attempt to lock down the openness of the platform. On a lighter side, at least now you can claim to play Xbox One exclusives on your PC.